Testimony reveals Ohr sought job at Fusion GPS; emails reveal she frequently sent Russia research to Bruce Ohr and other DOJ officials
Two key players in the FBI’s investigation of Donald Trump were husband and wife Bruce and Nellie Ohr.
Bruce Ohr was the highest ranking career official at the Department of Justice (DOJ) at the time, and Nellie Ohr was at the time working for Fusion GPS—the firm hired by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee to produce the so-called Steele dossier on Donald Trump.
In congressional testimonies reviewed by the Epoch Times, both Bruce and Nellie Ohr testified separately to congressional investigators last year that they had minimal contact with each other about their work, which could have posed an inherent conflict of interest.
Newly released documents and emails obtained by Judicial Watch, however, show that Nellie emailed Bruce dozens of times about Russia-related topics between October 2015 and September 2016. Nellie also routinely included several other DOJ officials in these communications.
The emails also indicate that both Nellie and Bruce were in contact with Nellie’s boss, Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson.
Nellie told congressional investigators in her Oct. 19, 2018, closed-door testimony, that part of her work for Fusion GPS was to research the Trump 2016 presidential campaign, including campaign associate Carter Page, early campaign supporter Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, campaign manager Paul Manafort, as well as Trump’s family members, including some of his children.
In court documents filed on Dec. 12, 2017, Simpson referred to Nellie Ohr as a “former government official expert” who was hired “to help our company with its research and analysis of Mr. Trump.”
Prior to her work for Fusion GPS, Nellie had worked as an independent contractor for the CIA for as many as six years.
Email communications between her and Bruce Ohr show that she routinely sent Bruce articles on Russia—most carrying a similar negative slant.
The emails continued throughout the duration of Nellie’s employment with Fusion GPS and usually contained a brief, often one-line commentary from Nellie. An example from page 319: “Lesin’s death (This looks “fishy”…) See the 6 November notes…”
The responses Nellie received were minimal and often non-existent, but she continued to forward emails to Bruce, along with several other DOJ officials, during her employment with Fusion GPS. The result was a steady stream of negative articles, and brief commentary on Russia being fed into the DOJ through her husband that almost certainly were the result of her work for Fusion GPS.
Bruce, however, had previously testified that he and Nellie typically did not discuss details of their work with each other.
Ms. Hariharan: “When she works on sensitive projects, does she discuss those details with you?”
Bruce Ohr: “Generally, no.”
Ms. Hariharan: “And on the flip side, have you discussed details of your cases with her?”
Bruce Ohr: “No.”
Nellie also provided her husband with a USB stick containing all her research from her time at Fusion GPS to pass on to the FBI in late 2016 after she officially left the firm in September 2016.
Nellie Ohr Approached Fusion GPS Head Glenn Simpson
In her testimony, Nellie Ohr described her work as online open source efforts that utilized “Russian sources, media, social media, government, you know, business registers, legal databases, all kinds of things.” Ohr said that she would “write occasional reports based on the open source research that I described about Donald Trump’s relationships with various people in Russia.”
The work Nellie conducted for Fusion GPS matches the same skill set used when she worked for the CIA’s Open Source Works, which is a division within the agency that uses open-source information to produce intelligence products.
Notably, she was hired by Fusion GPS approximately eight months before the firm hired former British MI6 spy Christopher Steele, author of the dossier.
When asked how she came to be hired by Fusion GPS and who had approached her, Ohr responded, “nobody approached me,” telling investigators that it was she who had initiated contact and approached Fusion GPS after reading an article on Simpson:
Ms. Ohr: “I believe it was in September of 2015 that I read an article in the paper that mentioned Glenn Simpson. And I remembered because he had been a Wall Street Journal reporter working on things like Russian crime and corruption, so I recognized the name. I was underemployed at that time and I was looking for opportunities.”
Mr. Jordan: “So you called him up?”
Ms. Ohr: “I sent an email.”
A search for that period of time shows that Simpson was in the news in August 2016 over the work his company conducted for Planned Parenthood following a controversy involving undercover videos filmed by the California-based Center for Medical Progress. Simpson had claimed that editing of the videos rendered the videos unreliable for any official inquiry.
Nellie Ohr said that following her email, Simpson told her to “come in and we’ll meet.” When questioned as to how well she knew Simpson prior to this meeting, Ohr responded that she had been at a conference that Simpson attended but indicated that she had never met him personally:
“I don’t recall directly talking with him at that conference, and I don’t know whether he knew who, you know, who I was other than the fact that I attended that conference.”
The conference Nellie is referring to relates to a June 2010 conference organized by the National Institute of Justice where Nellie, in her capacity as a researcher for the CIA’s Open Source Works, was listed as a participant.
The conference was a two-day interactive event that totaled just 39 participants. Simpson, who at the time was a senior fellow with the International Assessment and Strategy Center, and Bruce Ohr were facilitators at the event. It is unlikely Nellie and Simpson would not have had any interactions during this two-day, small scale, conference.
Also a participant at the conference was DOJ official Lisa Holtyn, who was listed as a Senior Intelligence Advisor at the DOJ’s Organized Crime and Racketeering Section Criminal Division.
Notably, Holtyn is the same DOJ official Nellie included on many of her emails to Bruce that contained her Russia related research.
Holtyn previously played a role in the DOJ’s handling of Operation Fast and Furious as documented in a July 18, 2011 email she sent titled: “TOC Strategy QAs on Operation Fast and Furious”
“How would you advise that we respond to the first proposed question on Op Fast and Furious? FYI, there are numerous references throughout the strategy (see attached pdf file) to weapons and firearms trafficking,” the email read.
Ties Between Simpson and the Ohrs
Nellie acknowledged in her testimony that Simpson must have been aware of her prior work for the CIA, given they had both participated in the same conference.
Mr. Jordan: “Do you have any knowledge that your experience as a contractor for various Federal agencies was marketed to Simpson ahead of your employment?”
Ms. Ohr: “I gave them a resume.”
Mr. Jordan: “So he knew about that. But do you think they — any knowledge that he knew about even prior to you handing him or submitting your resume to him?”
Ms. Ohr: “Well, he knew that — we had been at a conference together, so — and at the time of the conference, my name was listed as open — as working for open-source work.”
Nellie Ohr also testified that Simpson was aware when he hired her that her husband worked at the DOJ.
Rep. Jordan: “And did he know at the time that he hired you that your husband worked for the Department of Justice?”
Ms. Ohr: “Yes.”
But Simpson was not just aware of her husband and his position, the two men were also acquainted.
Rep. Jordan: “Was Glenn Simpson acquainted with your husband, Bruce? Did they have a friendship or relationship prior to you going to work for Fusion?”
Ms. Ohr: “They were acquainted, yes.”
Bruce Ohr, in his own testimony before congressional investigators on Aug. 28, 2018, confirmed that he was acquainted with both Simpson and Steele.
“In the course of this many years, I met with both — I had become acquainted with both Chris Steele, Glenn Simpson, and other people. And from time to time, these people would give me information about Russian oligarchs and other Russian organized crime figures, and then I would pass that to the FBI, or introduce people to the FBI so that they could continue.”
He also said that Nellie “knew Glenn Simpson for several years as well, because he was interested in Russian organized crime. My wife was a Russia analyst. And so I think they met.”
“I’ve seen Glenn Simpson at various — on various occasions over the years, and I believe my wife has as well,” Ohr said.
Bruce, however, appeared particularly cautious regarding his personal knowledge of how his wife came to be employed by Fusion GPS: “I don’t remember who made the contact, whether she spoke with Glenn Simpson directly or whether there was another party or someone else involved. I just know it wasn’t me.” Bruce also claimed to have no idea how much Nellie was paid for her work with Fusion.
Bruce Ohr’s Knowledge About His Wife’s Work
Bruce and Nellie Ohr both met with Christopher Steele at a breakfast meeting in Washington, D.C., on July 30, 2016. Also present at the meeting was another undisclosed younger man, whom Nellie said had a British accent.
The meeting proved to be pivotal, as it marked the beginning of Bruce becoming a backchannel from Steele into the FBI—a role he would continue even after the FBI formally terminated its relationship with Steele over unauthorized contacts with the media.
Bruce noted in his testimony that following the meeting he “certainly tried to keep separate what I was getting from Chris Steele and from Glenn Simpson from any conversations with my wife.”
Bruce said he was aware of his wife’s work peripherally, telling investigators, “She was a Russia analyst, and she would research people and companies that Fusion GPS asked her to look into. She would do her research on the internet, open sources; and she would report her findings to Fusion GPS.”
Bruce also acknowledged that “[At] some point, I became aware that some of the people she was invest—she was researching were some of the same people that I had heard about from Chris Steele and Glenn Simpson.”
Marital privilege was invoked during both testimonies—but far more often in Nellie’s testimony than in Bruce’s—to avoid answering questions about what the two knew about each other’s work.
During one of the few times when marital privilege was not invoked, Nellie stated that “I don’t recall telling him the content of what I was researching, but I’m not sure about that. The fact that I was doing work for GPS, clearly, he was aware of that.”
Nellie’s Involvement in Bruce’s DOJ Work
Email communications reveal Nellie Ohr played an active part in her husband’s career, helping to host two high-profile delegations during a period of less than two months.
The dinners involved a visit by European analysts specializing in Russian organized crime to Washington, and a second involved a high-profile British delegation, and took place while she was working for Fusion GPS.
Email records show that Nellie and Bruce hosted the Russia analysts for a dinner at their house on April 25, 2016.
At the time, Bruce Ohr was the head of the DOJ’s Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force Section (OCDETF). Among those meeting with the delegation from Europe were Ivana Nizich, who had previously worked for Bruce, and Joe Wheatley, then both trial attorneys in the DOJ’s Organized Crime and Gang Section.
A March 7, 2016, email sent by Stefan Bress, a first secretary at the German Embassy, to Bruce Ohr and Lisa Holtyn showed the proposed agenda for their visit:
- “Stability of the Putin regime” before the Duma elections
- Impact of Russian influence operations in Europe (“PsyOps/InfoWar”)
- Situation of Eurasian organized crime (how organized crime is used for politics within Russia and abroad)
Although no further details of the dinner are available, both Nizich and Wheatley would continue to appear in the communications of both Nellie and Bruce.
On March 23, 2016, Lisa Holtyn—the DOJ official who had been copied in on most of Nellie’s Russia-related emails that were sent to Bruce at the DOJ—suddenly reached out to Bruce asking for Nellie’s help researching an unknown matter.
Holtyn was asking for Nellie’s help on behalf of Nizich and Wheatley:
“She and Joe Wheatley are working on one of the [redacted] and trying to get some general background info that may be helpful to them. I told her Nellie might be a great resource…Do you think she would be comfortable with talking to them, and would it present any conflict of interest issues for her or for you?”
Bruce forwarded Holtyn’s email to Nellie, saying, “Hi honey! I trust you are okay with this?” Nellie responded almost immediately with “Sure!”
Notably, starting on May 3, 2016, Nellie began to include both Nizich and Wheatley in the emails containing articles and notes on Russia that she had previously been sending to Bruce and Lisa Holtyn.
The first email that Nellie included them on contained a lengthy set of notes and articles on Russia that had been compiled by Wayne Allensworth, who previously worked as a Russia analyst at the Foreign Broadcast Information Service—the predecessor to the government’s open source resource center, Open Source Enterprise, which is managed by the CIA.
The second dinner Nellie helped to host involved a high-ranking British official.
A May 6 email sent by Denise Turcotte to Bruce Ohr references the June 5 dinner with Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions (DPP) in charge of the Crown Prosecution Service.
Saunders’ tenure as DPP was marked by ongoing scandal, including a series of collapsed rape scandals, where individuals had been “wrongly imprisoned as a result of disclosure failings,” according to a July 20, 2018, Guardian article. She was the first-ever head of the DPP not to receive a knight or damehood at the end of their service.
Nellie was forwarded Turcotte’s email, saying “DPP and her party would be delighted to have dinner at your home” by Bruce, with a short note that said “The British are coming!” Nellie responded to Bruce: “Cool, thanks!”
Both Nellie and Bruce Were in Contact With Simpson
Nellie testified that she and Bruce shared a personal email account. The email address appears to have been the primary account used by Nellie, as many of the emails she sent Bruce at his official DOJ email account, originated from their shared account.
On Dec. 11, 2016, Glenn Simpson sent an email to the shared account that contained an article from ThinkProgress about the NRA’s ties to a Russian gun rights group run by Maria Butina and her boss, Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of the Russian central bank.
Approximately 50 minutes later, someone, likely Nellie, responded to Simpson with “Thank you!”
Nellie, though evasive, acknowledged during her testimony that it may have been her responding to Simpson:
Rep. Meadows: “So you could have been exchanging back and forth with the Think Progress article?”
Ms. Ohr: “It could have been.”
The following day, Dec. 12, 2016, Simpson emailed again—using the existing email thread from the previous day—with the short message “Please ring if you can.”
Six minutes later, Nellie forwarded the Simpson email to Bruce, saying “I assume Glenn means you not me.”
How did Nellie know the email from Simpson was intended for her husband? The email account was used primarily by her and she’d previously responded to an earlier email within the same email chain.
Two days prior, on Dec. 10, 2016, Ohr had met with Simpson in person—according to Bruce Ohr’s testimony. At this meeting, Simpson provided him with additional information regarding contacts with the Trump campaign. Simpson also provided him with a memory stick to pass on to the FBI:
Bruce Ohr: “He provided me with a memory stick, and he provided additional information regarding the contacts between the Russians and the Trump campaign.”
Ohr testified that he gave Simpson’s memory stick, along with one he received from his wife, to FBI agent Joseph Pientka, who had been assigned as his handler at the time.
If Nellie was aware of Bruce’s Dec. 10 meeting with Simpson, it’s possible she assumed the email request to call was for her husband. It still raises the question, however, why Nellie in that case was aware of her husband’s meetings with Simpson.
When questioned about the email, and how she intuitively understood Simpson’s request to call was intended for Bruce, Nellie responded evasively. But, unlike the earlier testimony by her husband, Congressional investigators kept pressing the matter:
Rep. Meadows: But you get an email that says … please call me, and you say, This must be for you, referring to your husband. How would you know?
Ms. Ohr: Because I couldn’t think of a reason that he would need me to talk to him because I had finished working for him.
At one point Nellie claimed she was “very busy on a new job” and told investigators that “my work for them was done.” As the questioning continued, Nellie once again invoked marital privilege, telling Rep. Meadows, “as I understand, any communications between my husband and myself are privileged.”
As time in her interview session ran out, Nellie stuck to her basic answer:
Ms. Ohr: I just didn’t see a reason why he would want to talk to me on the phone.
This article is part of my ongoing series at The Epoch Times.